“U.S. Security & Latin America&rdquo
To the Editor:
Jeane Kirkpatrick’s article, “U.S. Security & Latin America” [January], is disappointing. She has a reputation as a scholar and yet the article is superficial, polemical, filled with innuendoes unbecoming an Ambassador, and laden with factual errors that could have been corrected not by archival research but by a phone call or a dialogue which many of us in the Carter administration would have welcomed. Ambassador Kirkpatrick will soon find that one of the great frustrations of government service is not criticism per se, but criticism based on a misrepresentation of the facts or one’s views. I might add here that I was a staff member of the National Security Council in the Carter administration from 1977 to 1981, concerned with Latin American and Caribbean affairs, and also executive director of the Linowitz Commission on U.S.-Latin American Relations (1975-76).
Regrettably, it is not possible to respond in a single letter to all the issues raised in her article, which is a sweeping criticism of President Carter’s approach to Latin America and the Caribbean, or all the mistakes it contains. For now, let me address five points which will, I hope, illuminate the thrust of her critique and the outlines of Carter’s approach:
1. Special Relationship. Ambassador Kirkpatrick correctly asserts that Carter discarded the rhetoric of the “special relationship” and placed U.S. policy in the region in “a consistent global framework,” but incorrectly, she suggests that the consequences of the new approach “meant deemphasizing U.S. relations” with Latin America and reducing U.S. assistance.
Whatever one thinks about Carter’s policy in Latin America and the Caribbean, no one with any knowledge of the region or of the history of U.S. policy can make the case that Carter deemphasized U.S. relations in the region. Jimmy Carter made ten major speeches on the region; he met with almost every head of state, many of them several times, and maintained a regular dialogue and frequent correspondence; he traveled to the region three times and sent Mrs. Carter and Vice President Mondale as his personal representatives seven times and the Secretary of State on an additional six trips. With the possible exception of President Kennedy, Carter gave more sustained attention to the region than any previous President. Moreover, in the one sub-region Ambassador Kirkpatrick cares most about, Carter quadrupled aid to Central America and more than doubled aid to the Caribbean (and through the multinational Caribbean Group, which was established largely at Carter’s initiative, all external aid flows to the region quadrupled, to exceed $1 billion).
Increased attention permitted the Carter administration to see that the “special relationship,” to which Ambassador Kirkpatrick would like to return, was unsuited to the diversity within the region or the role many Latin American nations were playing internationally. At best, the “special relationship” had become just a rhetorical flourish; at worst, it was symptomatic of an outmoded paternalism, where we gave less, but expected more, where we treated the nations of the region as “wards” in “our sphere of influence.”
The Carter administration’s decision to place U.S. relations with Latin America in a “consistent, global framework” was a recognition of this reality: the nations of Latin America had too much of a stake in the global economic and political system to think that we could induce them to return to “our” hemisphere. Latin American nations wanted to be treated on the basis of mutual respect in addressing the global issues—trade, investment, technology—of greatest interest to them. The Carter administration judged that we were more likely to obtain the region’s cooperation if we consulted regularly and sought balanced relationships—comparable to our relations with Western Europe—than if we resurrected the rhetoric or the paternalism of the past.
2. Panama Canal Treaties. Carter’s commitment to new Canal treaties was viewed as a demonstration of his interest in more balanced and modern relationships. If the Carter administration attached great importance to them—as Ambassador Kirkpatrick notes sarcastically—it was in part to sell them to an American public which did not see or understand the disastrous consequences for U.S. interests in the Canal and in Latin America if the treaties had not been ratified.
3. Human Rights. The two points Ambassador Kirkpatrick makes about U.S. human-rights policy are in error.
She writes: “First, concern was limited to violations of human rights by governments. By definition, activities of terrorists or guerrillas could not qualify as violations. . . .” Carter administration officials frequently condemned both terrorism and government repression; the distinction in policy derived partly from the fact that we have relations with governments not with terrorists, and secondly, that we should hold governments to a higher responsibility, not only, to cite Carter, “because their power is so much greater than that of any individual,” but also because “the first duty of a government is to protect its citizens.”
Secondly, she criticizes the broad definition of human rights for including economic and social rights as well as personal and political rights, and she makes the rather startling suggestions that promoting such rights is akin to promoting socialism. These rights are not Carter’s creation; they are defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights. U.S. policies placed greatest weight on behalf of the right of the person to be free of arbitrary violence, but we did not ignore the importance of the other rights.
4. Bolivia. Her assertion that the Carter administration supported Siles Suazo (“the American candidate”) in the Bolivian presidential elections is false. Carter administration policy on elections was absolutely clear in concept and in implementation: we were partial to free and fair elections and impartial with respect to candidates. It is distressing that she has also apparently accepted the groundless, self-serving justification which General Garcia Meza used to seize power—that he did so to prevent Siles, a former President of Bolivia during the Eisenhower administration and a democrat, from establishing a Castroite-Communist government.
5. Nicaragua. The major part of her article is devoted to explaining why the Carter administration “brought down the Somoza regime.” Her answer: “Because it thought the fall of Somoza would bring progress to Nicaragua.”
Somoza fell of his own corrupt and repressive weight, and because there was practically no one in Nicaragua or outside who could bring himself to defend him. Indeed, within Nicaragua, the moderate democratic parties, the Church the independent labor unions, and most importantly the business sector actively sought to overthrow him, preferring the risks of a future with the Sandinistas to a present with Somoza. Outside, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Panama agreed: Somoza was the problem; his departure was the answer. It is ironic that she accuses Carter of destabilizing Somoza while the majority of the OAS governments suspected that we were secretly defending him. Neither charge is correct.
When the business sector shut down Managua for the second time in a general strike in August 1978 and the middle class lined the streets to cheer the Sandinistas as they were escorted to the airport after their takeover of the National Palace, it was clear that the people of Nicaragua had had enough with forty years of Somoza rule. Somoza’s hold on power became more tenuous—not firmer—as a result of the extraordinarily repressive, inhuman tactics of his National Guard, documented in the report of the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Because the situation seemed so clearly headed for radicalization and a bloody denouement, the U.S. joined with two other governments in the fall of 1978 to try to mediate a moderate, peaceful solution. The mediation was initially successful in permitting the centrist groups to organize as an independent force and to supplant the guerrillas as the key actor in the opposition, but Somoza deluded himself into thinking that the temporary lull in the fighting was permanent, and he sabotaged the mediation, pushing the middle to the Left.
Somoza created a popular movement which could agree on little else other than removing him. Whatever reservations the Carter administration had about the Sandinistas—and these are well-documented—we were not foolish enough to think that U.S. support for Somoza would have led to anything but our being dragged with him into an indefensible and unwinnable war.
Ambassador Kirkpatrick suggests that a right-wing dictator is preferable to a Communist dictator, but if she is talking about Nicaragua, she is missing the point, and not just because the current government—in power for 19 months—is not Communist now, and with continued efforts by moderate groups there and the right international environment, need never become so. If we had supported Somoza, we would not only have found ourselves opposed by Nicaraguan businessmen, labor, moderate politicians, the Church, and most of democratic Latin America, we would also have betrayed our principles and our ideals (i.e., a reason we oppose the Communists), and the cost to human life would have been many times the 50,000 who died. Moreover, we would have embraced a loser.
Her analysis implies that the U.S. and Cuba were the only two relevant actors in Nicaragua—that Cuba directed the revolution, and the U.S. could have prevented it. The people of Nicaragua are missing; her article provides no clue to the question of why thousands of Nicaraguans preferred to risk death rather than to have stability under the Somoza regime. This is the most disturbing aspect of her article—her seeming inability to understand the local causes of the instability in Central America, the limits of U.S. power and the nature of U.S. influence, and the fact that the U.S. has interests which are more extensive than anti-Communism. The instability will not go away even if the Cubans do.
The dilemma of what to do with a failing but “friendly” dictator remains. An emphasis on stability and a resistance to change is not the formula. U.S. options are few. We can go down with the dictator. We can distance ourselves from him and try to work with the more moderate elements of the new leadership, as we have tried to do in Nicaragua. Or we can work with the key centrist actors and try to prevent the situation from reaching the point where violent revolution is unstoppable. This last option can succeed only if that tragic country possesses leaders who can see clearly that the alternative to reform is revolution. That leadership did not exist in Nicaragua in 1978 and 1979; fortunately, it existed in El Salvador in 1979 and 1980.
Ambassador Kirkpatrick’s quest for stability in Central America is illusory; her fear of change betrays our nation’s dynamism. The issue for U.S. foreign policy—and the one the Carter administration addressed—is not whether to encourage change or to resist it, but rather how to relate to it in a way which will increase the probability that the outcome is compatible with U.S. interests. To lead, we have to deal with the world as it is and as we would want it to become, not as it once was.
To the Editor:
As a scientist, I spend quite a lot of time analyzing facts. Unfortunately, Jeane Kirkpatrick does not. A major point in her historical analysis is based on the “fact” that U.S. assistance to the countries of Latin America declined steadily during the Carter years. This decline is then argued to have contributed significantly to the current revolutionary crisis. . . . But this decline is a myth. Between 1977 and 1979 U.S. government assistance to Latin America tripled—from $577 million to $1.86 billion. A quick glance at the data for some relevant countries is revealing. Aid to Somoza’s Nicaragua totaled $9.8 million in 1977 and rose to $27.4 million in 1979 before the Sandinistas came to power. Likewise, aid to El Salvador tripled from $8.8 million in 1977 to around $25 million in 1980—hardly a decline in most people’s calculus. Ambassador Kirkpatrick’s rewriting of history (especially serious now that she is representing the U.S. at the United Nations) reminds me of a book I once read by George Orwell.
I agree that U.S. policy should be based on realism. But realism has to take the facts into account, even if they don’t fit into a particular world view. . . .
Dave Van Buren
University of California
To the Editor:
In her “U.S. Security & Latin America” Jeane Kirkpatrick displays the limited vision typical of nearly all Reagan appointments in the foreign-policy area. Her analysis of problems in Nicaragua assigns all guilt to Communist-affiliated terrorists, omitting what every objective historian of the area recognizes: that Somoza’s own murderous repression was the chief inspiration for the Sandinista movement, starting with his treacherous assassination of the movement’s original leaders. Her approach to El Salvador is equally misleading; she mentions the murders of visiting American nuns without any adequate sense of the strong evidence that these and similar killings of peace-loving people in that country were performed primarily by right-wing terrorists, not Communists.
The most appalling shortcoming of her article, as of the Reagan-Haig approach to foreign policy in general, is the total absence of emphasis on the degree to which the countries of Central America are economic colonies of American corporations. Coffee, cotton, bananas, beets, and other products which we could easily do without are produced for export on the best half of the land, funneling income either out of the area or into the hands of its repressive elites, and pressuring the bulk of the population to squeeze out a meager existence crowded onto poor land. In short: U.S. policy promotes a policy leading to certain revolution.
To accuse the Carter administration of turning its back on the status quo in Latin America is at best a vast exaggeration. . . . In the article, Carterism is confused with McGovernism; but in fact the kind of sympathy with repressed minorities abroad that McGovern recommended has never been tried to any serious degree by any American government. Until it is, our foreign relations will necessarily continue to deteriorate, especially in the Third World.
John E. Chappell, Jr.
San Luis Obispo, California
To the Editor:
. . . As with her COMMENTARY essay of November 1979 [“Dictatorships & Double Standards”], Jeane Kirkpatrick centers her arguments in her current article on the paradigm built of the events surrounding the Nicaraguan coup. After defending at length the hardly controversial point that Somoza’s continuation in power would have been in American interests, she forcefully asserts that Carter, by himself, “brought down the Somoza regime” (emphasis in original). In Ambassador Kirkpatrick’s book, anyway, it was child’s play to fell the autocrat, and the entire episode happened because Carter voiced disapproval of the human-rights violations under Somoza’s regime, and because the U.S. withheld aid at a time when Somoza needed it most. . . .
On the topic of U.S. aid, Ambassador Kirkpatrick’s argument is a house of cards, whose façade tumbles with the slightest prod. The fact is, of course, that even if we had not reduced aid, the level maintained previously would still have been inadequate to insure Somoza’s survival—a fact that was shown at the time by the increasing ferocity of his Sandinista opponents. Not that anyone maintains that the fall could not have been averted (or at least deferred) given extreme commitment and desire on our part to sacrifice to such an end. But the point that the article skirts is that to preserve this dictatorship, the U.S. would have been forced to increase its involvement dramatically; the question of self-interest is pushed to the side and perhaps military intervention—i.e., U.S. troop commitment—would have proved necessary in the end. In this post-Vietnam era, perhaps Americans could be forgiven if they drew back from such a prospect.
There is another complicating factor to the Nicaraguan dilemma which, surprisingly, received no mention in Ambassador Kirkpatrick’s treatment of the subject. As several people have pointed out, the dramatic escalation of aid that Somoza’s survival would have necessitated is the kind of action that does not occur in a vacuum—it would have had specific repercussions. The Cubans, for example, whose own support to the Sandinistas seems to have been considerable, would plausibly have met such an act with a corresponding increase in their own aid. . . . To say the least, the resulting spiral would have been undesirable, unsupported by the majority of Americans, and ultimately unmaintainable. We simply cannot pretend that we are willing to go as far as the Cuban adventurists in the effort to manipulate global events. . . . Faced with such bleak prospects, Carter took the option of standing back for the conflict to resolve itself. There is no question that it was a sound choice. . . .
Given the likelihood (for reasons beyond our control) that the conflict would not be resolved in our favor, Carter made gestures, in necessarily Machiavellian fashion, that could be construed as a repudiation of the autocrat. For example, he spoke of his genuine concern over human-rights violations, and took other measures to signify his alienation from the foundering Somoza regime. Ambassador Kirkpatrick, mistaking these gestures for the cause of Somoza’s downfall, asks why. Yet the answer is plain to anyone reading the obvious signs: when one knows, as only the President could know, that the Sandinista junta would soon have mastery, it makes little sense not to lay the groundwork for possible future friendly relations, and thus gain influence with the incoming administration. . . .
“U.S. Security & Latin America” argues for pragmatism in the national interest. But it is neither pragmatic nor in the nation’s interest to fight to the bloody end in an effort to prop up a failing autocrat who has been rejected by his own people. Still, it is not hard to criticize the tough decisions that Carter made. . . . What is more difficult . . . is realizing why they were necessary. I only hope that Ambassador Kirkpatrick’s role in the Reagan administration will lead her to a fuller appreciation of the difficulties that the actual conduct of foreign policy involves.
Henry D. Finder
Loudonville, New York
To the Editor:
Jeane Kirkpatrick opens her article with a call to arms to defend against a “. . . ring of Soviet bases” that will soon face the United States from the south. Surely Ambassador Kirkpatrick overstates her case. The Soviet naval facility at Cienfuegos in Cuba hardly constitutes a “ring” of bases. But Ambassador Kirkpatrick is fearful of new bases appearing in Nicaragua and in El Salvador, once that country falls to the Red Menace.
Like most analysts who approach U.S. foreign policy from the limited perspective of national security, she has difficulty distinguishing between national-liberation movements and the supposed international Communist monolith. To portray Nicaragua as a Cuban/Soviet puppet oversimplifies reality. True, the most radical elements of the ruling junta have been strongly influenced by the Cuban revolutionary model and have supported some Cuban/Soviet positions in international arenas, but, at the same time, the Nicaraguan government has made overtures to Washington demonstrating a desire to maintain its independence from the Communist bloc.
Ambassador Kirkpatrick is premature in pronouncing the Nicaraguan experiment a foreign-policy failure. It is critical at this juncture for the U.S. government to respond positively to these overtures to support the democratic elements of the revolution. To be sure, the United States can help to drive Nicaragua into the Cuban/Soviet camp by adopting the same rigidly anti-Communist positions of non-assistance that it adopted vis-à-vis Cuba in 1960. If the new Reagan team tries to block the $75-million aid package approved last summer for Nicaragua, the junta may have no alternative but to seek increased help from the Communists. Unfortunately, Ambassador Kirkpatrick does not tell us what she would do about Nicaragua, but I hear strains of the Marine Corps Marching Band in her arguments.
Ambassador Kirkpatrick would no doubt argue that the current Nicaraguan problem would not exist but for the “affirmative pressures” of the Carter administration that resulted in Somoza’s downfall. While the point is arguable, many analysts maintain that it was only a matter of time before Somoza fell, as the mounting opposition extended to both ends of the political spectrum. The only policy available to Washington that might have prolonged the Somoza regime would have been the massive infusion of U.S. military equipment and perhaps personnel. Ambassador Kirkpatrick would probably have advocated such a strategy, but it is precisely this strategy that has historically made the Cuban revolutionary model so attractive to progressive-minded Latin Americans. She suggests that continued support for Somoza, aside from assuring the United States an ally, would have spared Nicaragua a devastating civil war, but she completely ignores not only the thousands of lives that would have been lost in crushing the opposition (assuming that it could have been crushed) but also the continued economic and political oppression of the vast majority of Nicaraguans under the Somoza dynasty. It is an insidious distortion of reality to label the Somoza regime “. . . moderately oppressive and moderately corrupt.” So long as the U.S. government supports Somoza-type regimes in Latin America, Latin Americans will desert the American camp and seek more radical solutions.
Ambassador Kirkpatrick prescribes three steps toward correcting United States-Latin American policy. Although she pays lip-service to the goal of improving the “. . . actual lives of actual people . . .” (one wonders whom she is talking about) in Latin America, her chief concern is with U.S. national security and hemispheric stability. While these are indisputably important goals of any U.S. foreign policy, I question whether her strategy of attempting to shore up corrupt dictatorships is really in the long-term interest of the United States. These dictatorships cannot last indefinitely and we alienate the future leaders of Latin America by our use of “big stick” diplomacy. Moreover, we must be honest with ourselves about the consequences of pursuing a foreign policy based exclusively on national security and hemispheric stability. In the context of Latin America, such a policy would not improve the quality of life for the average Latin American, but, rather, perpetuate the gross social, political, and economic inequalities that currently exist.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
To the Editor:
I am delighted that Ambassador Kirkpatrick mentions me by name in her article as one of the persons with whom she disagrees when it comes to defining what U.S. policy should be toward Latin America. I would have been very uncomfortable if anyone could imagine that she and I agreed on basics.
However, I am offended that she characterizes me, and the other “like-minded” persons she names, as advocates of “anti-American perspectives and revolutionary activism.” Surely the debate on foreign policy can be carried on without having to impugn the patriotism of the other parties. If, however, Ambassador Kirkpatrick insists on maintaining this characterization, I would be glad to meet her in public debate to discuss who is really “anti-American.”
School of International Service
To the Editor:
In her otherwise excellent article, “U.S. Security & Latin America,” Jeane Kirkpatrick implies that whereas the Carter administration acted to weaken Anastasio Somoza’s government in Nicaragua, Washington merely failed “to prevent a given outcome” in the earlier cases of China and Cuba. It is clear from the record, however, that in both China and Cuba the State Department did act in ways that undermined friendly regimes and facilitated the victory of anti-American revolutionaries.
After his Nationalist forces inflicted a major defeat on the Chinese Communists in May 1946, Chiang Kai-shek tried to win the civil war in defiance of American pressure for concessions to the enemy. In response, from July 1946 to May 1947, the United States enforced an arms embargo against the Nationalists. The result was what Professor Richard C. Thornton (in his book, China: The Struggle for Power) describes as a “fundamental and fatal change” in Chiang’s strategy. In an attempt to conserve ammunition, Chiang limited his offensive operations and emphasized the defense of positions already won, thus conceding the initiative to the Communist side.
In March 1958 the State Department imposed a similar arms embargo against Fulgencio Batista’s government in Cuba. In his memoirs, entitled The Fourth Floor, Earl E.T. Smith—the U.S. Ambassador to Havana at the time—maintains that this American decision was psychologically “devastating” to the government and encouraging to the Castroites. In his book, Dagger in the Heart: American Policy Failures in Cuba, Mario Lazo describes the arms embargo as one of the “main events that brought Castro to power.”
Ambassador Kirkpatrick’s criticism of the Carter administration for its arms embargo against Somoza’s Nicaragua is entirely justified, but Carter’s blunder was not unique; using arms embargoes to weaken anti-Communist governments has become almost a tradition of American foreign policy. . . . It is reassuring to know that we can anticipate at least a four-year moratorium on new embargoes of this sort.
Kenneth H. W. Hilborn
University of Western Ontario
To the Editor:
The article by Jeane Kirkpatrick is superb, as far as it goes. It is a long-awaited whiff of clean and uncontaminated air.
Alas! It does not go far enough, because it deals exclusively with Central America and has only a word or two to say about South America. While Central America and its burning issues are certainly important, there is an enormous difference in gravitational force between it and the South American countries. One could get a more accurate sense of things if one measured Latin American problems with a South American yardstick rather than with a Central American one. Nevertheless, a door has been opened and that is good.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
To the Editor:
Jeane Kirkpatrick’s “U.S. Security & Latin America” is the very model of a consequential case study. Though written in the white heat of the current crisis in the Caribbean, it has enduring value because it is rooted in a solid understanding of the limits and possibilities of human nature and politics. Ambassador Kirkpatrick grapples seriously with specific facts and confronts honestly the present danger. She is realistic without being cynical, compassionate without being sentimental.
The author’s note identifying Ambassador Kirkpatrick mentions that her earlier COMMENTARY article, “Dictatorships & Double Standards” [November 1979], was “widely discussed.” But this is an understatement. It was in fact this article that brought her thinking to the attention of Ronald Reagan and eventually led to her nomination as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
COMMENTARY readers may order “Dictatorships & Double Standards” in permanent pamphlet form for $1 from the Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1211 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.
Ernest W. Lefever
Washington, D. C.
To the Editor:
. . . Jeane Kirkpatrick’s appointment should be greeted with joy by all Americans and friends of America who have been troubled by the former administration’s envoys to the UN, whether the flamboyant Andrew Young, whose remark about “the stabilizing influence of the Cubans in Angola” may survive as the all-time nadir of U.S. diplomacy, or the inconspicuous Ambassador Donald McHenry. To judge from her writings, Ambassador Kirkpatrick may follow where Daniel P. Moynihan left off. It is true, the United Nations may have become an unimportant sideshow. But the performance of the U.S. Ambassador there is a yardstick of American dignity and resolve. . . .
Ambassador Kirkpatrick’s most recent article is admirable proof of her no-nonsense grasp of the complex Central American and Caribbean situations. I would like to add a few remarks with regard to her discussion of El Salvador.
I admit that I am not entirely objective. Two years ago, in San Salvador, I was the house guest of an old friend, Don Ernesto Liebes, a companion in the struggle to win political backing first for the cause of a Jewish state, then later for Israel. He was for many years Israel’s honorary Consul General in El Salvador. A month after my visit, Liebes was kidnapped. The guerrilla communiqué stated expressly that he had been selected because he was the Consul of Israel. His abductors demanded a ransom of $10 million and, when this was not forthcoming, executed their captive. At the time there existed no terror from the Right. The leftists had the field to themselves. The civil war was started by the leftists.
This information will probably not prevent those whose knee-jerk reflex is to back any leftist revolutionary movement against the “landowners and the middle class” from sympathizing with the guerrillas. I wonder, though, how many of these sympathizers are landless peasants themselves and how many of them are middle-class, which, in the guerrilla jargon, would make them “oligarchs.” During another civil war, in another Latin American country, I was given the following definition of who, in the eyes of the revolutionaries, is an “oligarch”: somebody who lives in a concrete house, owns a car, and has gone to college. How many of those guerrilla-sympathizers in this country meet these standards? . . . Does their concern for the peasants of El Salvador (many of whom are being ravaged by the guerrillas because they accepted a land reform the guerrillas labeled “insufficient”) sentence their Salvadoran peers—the middle class—to live in a leftist, Castroist dictatorship which, undoubtedly, would be the result of a guerrilla victory?
There are unappetizing choices to be made in El Salvador and in other places. It is reassuring to know that the presence of Ambassador Kirkpatrick in the new administration may contribute to their being made wisely.
Benno Weiser Varon
Jeane Kirkpatrick writes:
Robert Pastor’s letter is a useful reminder of what we—the nation and the world—were delivered from by the outcome of last November’s elections. The combined elements of strong invective, weak argument, and a posture of moral superiority that became dismally familiar during the Carter years are all present.
As I understand him, Mr. Pastor argues: (1) that the Carter administration did not deemphasize relations with Latin America; (2) that it did not hold a deficient conception of human rights; (3) that Carter did not destabilize Nicaragua; and (4) that my methodology is inadequate and my article is filled with mistakes and misrepresentations.
Mr. Pastor’s arguments seem to me as deficient as the policies they justify. First concerning the “special relationship”: trips by government officials and spouses do not offset reductions in economic and military aid, reductions in education and scientific exchanges, imposition of severe curbs on arms sales, public scoldings, and highhanded diplomacy. Much of the sustained attention the Carter administration gave Latin America would have gladly been forgone by its recipients. Mr. Carter’s 1977 trip to Brazil was not generally interpreted by Brazilians as evidence of friendly concern, especially when the U.S. President’s cold behavior toward Brazil’s military leader was contrasted with his warm embrace weeks later of Nigeria’s military dictator. The reduction of economic and military assistance to Latin America was repeatedly affirmed by Carter policy-makers and is a matter of public record. To support his contention that the administration increased aid, Mr. Pastor has compared and assimilated non-comparable, non-assimilable categories.
Second, concerning the Carter conception of human rights, Mr. Pastor’s statement itself tacitly acknowledges that coercion exercised by governments was judged more harshly than the violence of terrorists despite the historic view that, by virtue of their responsibility for maintaining order, governments possess a monopoly of legitimate force. Treating governments and terrorists as equals deprives the former of all claims to legitimacy.
Apparently, it seems to Mr. Pastor defense enough of Carter’s overly broad conception of human rights to note that they are the rights “defined” by the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights. But those definitions also stretch the concept of rights past the point of relevance to actual societies. In fact, real events can never be measured by utopian yardsticks.
As for Nicaragua, Mr. Pastor clings to the Carter interpretation of events: nothing that has happened since has altered his conviction that “Somoza was the problem; his departure was the answer.” Moreover, Mr. Pastor claims that the Carter team both did not destabilize Nicaragua and that they had to do it. It may be that Somoza’s repugnant regime would have fallen of its own weight. My point is that we will never know because Carter policy-makers did not wait to find out, but instead acted repeatedly to weaken that regime and strengthen its opponents.
Mr. Pastor remains undisturbed by the consequences of that policy. Nicaragua’s regime, he assures us, is “not Communist now,” and need not become so if only there is the “right international environment,” presumably one that is filled with aid and understanding and no unreasonable demands concerning the willingness of the Sandinista leaders to hold elections, and/or their treatment of the private sector, and/or their multiple ties to the Soviet Union, and/or their intervention in El Salvador and elsewhere, and/or their human-rights record.
At present the Sandinista leaders control almost all the levers of power and are busily constructing institutional bases of totalitarian control, formally linking Nicaragua to the Soviet bloc of countries, building and equipping (with Soviet-bloc arms) an army and militia of unprecedented size, and mounting a clandestine radio station beamed at El Salvador into which have been shipped tons of weapons. Nicaragua may still be turned back from totalitarianism and full incorporation into the Soviet bloc, but such a hoped-for turn would require important changes in its ruling elite.
In evaluating Mr. Pastor’s attitude, it should be emphasized that the political character and ambitions of the present rulers were manifested in a long series of policies adopted during the period that Carter, Pastor, and Pezzullo offered the Sandinista junta understanding and help. It will never be possible to say of the Sandinista rulers (as so many were and are wont to argue of Cuba) that only our failure to “understand” the revolution in its infancy caused it to turn to Moscow and repression.
These differences between Robert Pastor’s views and mine are grounded in more basic disagreements. As I have argued elsewhere, Mr. Pastor apparently operates from the deterministic, unilinear model of development which locates the greater evil in the status quo and sees change as necessarily progressive. I share Mr. Pastor’s repugnance for regimes like those of Somoza, but I lack his faith that they will necessarily be replaced by something better. The march of history, which is nothing more or less than the sum of human choices and actions, cannot be relied upon to produce progressive results. The beneficence of any movement or regime is finally determined not by its relation to history, but by the morality and consequences of its policies.
A final word on methodology: it is true that in thinking about foreign policy under the last administration I preferred to rely on the public record. The policies and their consequences were of far more concern to me than the motives of the actors. The public speeches and the testimony of principals before congressional committees laid out their understanding of what they were about. Other persons will at some point no doubt relate those policies to the personalities, perspectives, and interactions of the Carter foreign-policy elite. But that is another job for another day.
Of Dave Van Buren I will say only that his figures combine categories of financial transactions in a way that is misleading as to the nature of Carter policy. Lumping together foreign aid and financial loans made by persons and institutions outside government, and reading the total as a reflection of Carter administration policy, utterly distorts the relationship between policy and aid. The financial decisions of bankers about investment opportunities can hardly be interpreted as an intended consequence of Carter policies.
On John E. Chappell, Jr.: I do not “assign all guilt” in Nicaragua to “Communist-affiliated terrorists.” I argue to the contrary that the U.S. government under Jimmy Carter shares a good deal of that guilt, as does the Somoza regime itself. A still more basic difference divides Mr. Chappell and me; he apparently believes that U.S. economic colonialism leads to “certain revolution,” never noticing what Plato emphasized two thousand years ago: that revolutions are caused and conducted not by the poor but by the imperfectly socialized sons of the elite. Neither does Mr. Chappell bother to explain why people preoccupied with delivering their countries from economic imperialism would be so unconcerned with the most aggressive imperialist power of our times, the Soviet Union. Mr. Chappell’s lumpen-Marxism (Karl Wittfogel’s term) is utterly inadequate to explain the complex political realities of Central America. Plato is a better guide.
Henry D. Finder oversimplifies to the point of caricature my argument concerning Somoza. Carter’s policies could bring down Somoza because, like most regimes in the area, his lacked legitimacy and popular support. So, however, does its replacement—which in addition provides Soviet power a new base in the hemisphere. No one will ever know how much or what kind of aid would have been required to prevent the Sandinista victory. My own opinion is that our neutrality would have sufficed.
Mr. Finder is certainly correct that we cannot and should not go as far as the Cubans in an effort to manipulate global events. But surely we can defend our basic interests in large areas as close to us as Central America—not imposing regimes, but preventing their imposition by others.
Finally, Mr. Finder offers as justification for our policy the argument that we should join history: having seen that Somoza was likely to lose, we should have jumped quickly onto the winning side. The drive to be on the right side of history can justify any crime and rationalize any alliance. It is incompatible with moral behavior in life and in politics.
Surely Carl Valenstein must have noticed that I spoke about the threat of being confronted by a ring of Soviet bases on the southern and eastern flanks. One swallow does not make a spring, nor one Cuba a ring—but as Castro remarked, there are now three of “them” in the hemisphere and they promised to become more numerous had Carter policies been continued.
I understand that Mr. Valenstein disagrees with Castro’s characterization of the Nicaraguan regime. I have already given my reading of the evidence on the character of that government. I will add here only that if Nicaragua enters the Cuban/Soviet camp it will not be because of “rigidly anti-Communist” U.S. positions. Carter policymakers repeatedly indicated their willingness to settle for—indeed to encourage—“creative Marxism.”
The national-security perspective is less morally limiting than Mr. Valenstein suggests. It is only necessary to accept that U.S. strength is intimately, inexorably linked to the freedom and independence of ourselves and others to understand that a policy oriented to U.S. national security will also be a policy that protects human rights.
I am pleased that I was able to please Brady Tyson with the mention of him. However, I cannot give him full satisfaction. I did not characterize him as anti-American. His suggestion is only his way of fending off and trying to delegitimize criticism of the disastrous ideas and policies with which he has been associated.
I have a sinking feeling that Kenneth H. W. Hilborn may be right. In fact, I even suggested as much in “Dictatorships & Double Standards.” The parallels among these situations are suggestive, including our hapless efforts to hold Chiang Kai-shek responsible for creating his own democratic opposition.
Finally, I would like to thank Paul Hirsch, Ernest Lefever, and Benno Weiser Varon for their kind comments.